Man of Steel

Posted: June 17, 2013 in Movie Reviews

Kal-El_Henry Cavill

Throughout over 80 years of movie-making, the themes of greatness and destiny have been resurgent topics, prevalent in such classics from Star Wars  to Captain America. In fact, it is no small matter that a man should aspire to something greater than what society has intended for him to be. A classic example of this would be the legendary Walt Disney, a man who surpassed his rural, small-town life to achieve greatness through his passion. But another equally legendary person who has been associated the most with the word “superhero” for the past 75 years would be the colossal character known to us as Superman.

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Summary: (No spoilers)

In the midst of Krypton’s tragic demise, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is forced to send his infant son Kal-El to earth to be raised by and live like humans. “They will reject him,” states a concerned mother. “How?” asks Jor-El, “He will be a god to them.”

33 years later Kal-El (Henry Cavill), under his adoptive name Clark Kent, finds himself in desperate need of answers to his long-pondered questions as he struggles to look deep inside himself to discover his true purpose in life. The answer comes when a galactic ship is found buried deep in the arctic tundra—–a place that unites Kal-El with the ghost of his father, who tells him all he needs to know concerning his past as well as his reason for being sent to earth.

Now with objective in mind and a new suit to aid him in his tremendous task, Clark must face his most devastating opponent yet: General Zod (Michael Shannon), a man whose history ties in directly to Clark’s own father’s death. With the help of reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) who gives him invaluable moral support, the Man of Steel must sacrifice of himself greatly for the survival of the only world he’s ever really known.

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 “You’re just going to have to decide what kind of a man you want to grow up to be, Clark,” says Jonathan Kent, Clark’s adoptive father, “Because whoever that man is. . . he’s going to change the world.” Growing up on earth, being raised by humans and being instilled with human morals and principles, Clark Kent is a man who has weathered the trials of being dissimilar from every other person on the planet. As a young man, it’s shown from his point of view that the world doesn’t value someone who is in any way different from the commonplace.

Although Clark strives to prove his worth in society, Clark’s earthly father strongly urges him to keep his supernatural nature a secret from the world, to only expose it when he has found out how to best utilize it. Though he spends the vast majority of his life searching and seeking for the answers to the questions that have always plagued him, Clark’s patience eventually pays off.

Man-of-steel-tank

First off, those who are faithful devotees to the Superman lore—–who think that doing away with the red underpants is a cardinal sin—–should be forewarned that this is a Superman film like no other; not only in the revision of the suit itself, but also in the overall tone and feel of the film. Think back to the older Batman films, and then to the modern Chris Nolan films. Notice the difference? While Man of Steel  is nowhere near as brooding in tone as The Dark Knight, it still manages to take Superman to a place we have never seen him. There’s no place for John Williams’ gallant Superman theme, which shows that Man of Steel  does indeed have a much grittier, more serious tone, beginning with its title.

But while Superman purists may be grinding their teeth and calling this film an impetuous destruction of a beloved superhero, other less-nostalgic fans are simply stating, “fantastic!” Like Batman Begins this film is a final effort, after several disappointing predecessors, to revitalize a well-loved character and to change the way we forever view him in our minds.

It was well-established prior to its release that Christopher Nolan (director of the Dark Knight films) had an influential part in the creative process of the film. He both produced and co-wrote the script along with writer David S. Goyer, who also scripted the Dark Knight films; and their involvement in the film is ever-noticeable. There were sections that were quite artistic and non-conventional, very similar to Chris Nolan’s style of film-making, and they added great depth and emotion. When Kal-El first steps out into the sun dressed as Superman, his cape flowing sinuously behind him and Hans Zimmer’s fantastic music swelling, it’s enough to give you goose bumps.

Man of Steel  really felt a bit divided in style, though. Most of the film was awe-inspiring, filled with beautiful imagery and gorgeous cinematography. It was in the action sequences, however, that you could tell this was a Zach Snyder-directed film and not a Chris Nolan film as I had desperately hoped. Snyder’s style of film-making includes very stylized, bombastic action and CGI shots that feel very non-normal. There were moments throughout where there was too much action, even for a superhero film.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I feel action in general is a waste of limited screen time. The action in The Avengers was done quite well, never reaching excessiveness or becoming superfluous. Each action shot was well-placed and had a purpose. In Man of Steel, however, I felt more like a I was watching Transformers, where the melodrama seeps through slightly incoherent and ill-perceived directive choices.

While I am in no way comparing this film to Transformers, my grudge with the film was that the action didn’t seem connected or consistent; nor did it seem that the action was really going anywhere. To me, it felt like big science-fiction machines of war were destroying the earth, wreaking havoc and wanton death, crashing skyscrapers and leveling cities the size of New York City, while the bad guys beat up on the good guys and Superman flew through buildings at 800 mph. I understand this is a Superman movie, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all Michael Bay and generate nonsensical action sequences. If they had only decreased the action by a mere 20%, the film would have benefited so much more by it.

My second quibble with the film is that it felt very sci-fi in nature, and not because Kal-El comes from a foreign planet. There were scenes of alien-like spaceships (no aliens, thankfully) hovering above earth, a looming threat. When I think of Superman, I tend to think of a nerdy Clark Kent at The Daily Planet, stepping into a phone booth to change at a moment’s notice. Man of Steel didn’t have that, but I can see how this is an origin story and they’re saving all the nostalgic Superman material for later (the ending does reveal this).

All negative elements aside, there are a myriad of positive things to be enjoyed in Man of Steel. The cast was fantastic. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was faultless at his role. He plays a very strong being who bears himself with great confidence. Amy Adams as Lois Lane was the perfect acting choice. This was her third audition for the role, so you know that she cared a great deal about the character she was representing. Her character is headstrong and never backs down, even in the face of great peril. All other supporting actors perform extraordinarily well, especially Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.

Amy Adams_Lois Lane

But the real question is Henry Cavill in the lead role. Superman is a tough character to portray. Not only do you have to present yourself as a strong individual physically, but your inner strength must be just as apparent. Cavill depicts Superman brilliantly. You never even think of Christopher Reeves at all. Like Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, Henry Cavill has forever revolutionized the character. He is now Superman.

The thing they did with the character that I thought they handled quite well was making Superman less of a god and more of a human. When he first flies, he doesn’t accomplish it very gracefully. There is no kryptonite in the film, but the film makers did a fine job showing the audience that Superman is flawed and is in no way perfect, an aspect of him that we haven’t really before seen.

Nor is the Man of Steel in any way ordinary. He flies at super-sonic speeds, emits high-energy lasers from his eyes with the help of the sun, and has enough strength to make Arnold Schwarzenegger envious. The story of baby Kal-El being sent to earth by his father is very reminiscent of the story of Jesus Christ. Jor-El—–confident that man will not only admire his son, but will aspire to be more like him—–sends his only son to earth as a baby to save mankind. He lives like humans and has two fathers. But mankind, in both scenarios, never truly accepted their savior for who he really was.

Russell Crowe_Jor-El

While Man of Steel  tries not to depend too heavily on its roots, there are nostalgic elements to the story that simply need to be there. Kal-El’s suit, though not as vibrant, still has the cape and the immortal “S” and is far more functional. And especially-vigilant viewers will be able to spot both a Lex Luthor and a Wayne Enterprises easter egg, perhaps a subtle hint at the direction future installments will take. You can tell that the film makers took painstaking measures to ensure that the essence of the Superman lore was never lost.

In a nutshell:

Man of Steel  is the epitome of beautiful film-making at its best. While it felt a bit too sci-fi for me, and the excessive action and melodrama certainly take away a good deal from the overall enjoyable experience, I would in no way claim that Man of Steel was poorly made or inferior to any other Superman film. Any tampering with the lore’s origins has only left a more relevant and relatable Superman that will last through the ages.

 

 

9 stars

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Comments
  1. Debbie says:

    Awesome review! You write very well! Appreciate your insight. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but you make me want to go see it now.

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